Bumper Sticker Theology

Less Than 140 Characters

I’m sure you’ve seen bumper stickers that made impactful statements, some funny, others serious. They make big statements in a small space. So they must be clever or creative, which makes them memorable. A good bumper sticker masters the art of speaking little yet saying much. One of my favorites is:

“No Jesus, No Peace; Know Jesus, Know Peace.” – author unknown

To be effective in getting a message across in a limited space, sentences must be succinct or pithy. In other words, brief and to the point. That is something I would like to get better at in my writing; I’ll keep practicing. For inspiration and good examples of bumper sticker type messages, there is an entire website called…Twitter!

Like a bumper sticker, a Tweet is limited in space. I like to follow other Christians on Twitter to keep up with their long-form articles elsewhere. But I also really enjoy and appreciate those who make bumper sticker type statements; it’s a skill I’d like to have!

Speaking Little, Distorting Truth

But when it comes to sound doctrine and theology, you’ve got to be very careful. Sometimes it is helpful to distill a Biblical theme down to its essence, making the truth more accessible and memorable. This works when you are succinct. But the danger is in oversimplification.

Trying try to cram a big complex message in a tiny space is not simple; sometimes part of the message gets squeezed out. And when part of a truth is omitted, it is like a half-truth, which isn’t much better than a lie. People don’t place their hand on the Bible and swear to tell part of the truth; they swear to tell the whole truth! The simple fact is, it is not always easy to tell the truth in a little space.

Bumper Sticker Theology That Didn’t Stick

A small example of a feeble attempt at conveying a truth succinctly once happened to me (okay, likely more than once). While discussing prayer, the question was asked, “If God has ordained the outcome of everything, why pray?” I answered in short form, trying to capture a whole idea in a memorable statement, “God ordains not only the end but also the means to the end.” My point was the reason we pray is because God has told us we are to pray.

But my friend didn’t like that statement. So I asked if he thought it was an oversimplification. He said that while my pithy phrase was technically correct, it was missing something; it lacked the emotional tenor of prayer as a reason why we do it. We plead, beseech, request, and at times even argue with God about things. My statement was devoid of the personal aspect of prayer and it presented the act of talking to God as merely a duty to perform. Fair enough. So why intercede in prayer for the Lord to intervene in life? Because your heart yearns for help from him and he loves to give it!

So communicate succinctly; avoid oversimplification.

Nuggets Of Truth In Short Quotes

I just happened to find a new article from blogger Tim Challies that speaks directly on this subject. And I must say, I think he is right!

Like the problem I pointed out about the danger of oversimplifying and distorting truth, Challies wrote about a similar objection to short quotes. I might as well quote part of what he said in his article on quotes:

“The most common objection is that the quote does not contain the entire truth. The quote may be true, but not always true or not wholly true.” – Tim Challies

And like succinct Tweets and pithy Bumper Stickers, Challies has this to say about quotes:

“They provide a dimension of truth and give us the opportunity to reflect on what is true.” – Tim Challies

I love one of Tim’s last sentences because it nails the opposite danger of summarized truth which I did not really see before:

“The joy of a quote is in thinking about it, yet without over-thinking it.” – Tim Challies

So now I see two dangers to avoid when it comes to the art of brevity, be it a quote, a Tweet, or a Bumper Sticker:

  1. Do not oversimplify a great truth.
  2. Do not overamplify (i.e. over-think) a succinct truth.

One last example of the usefulness of succinct, yet seemingly inadequate, messages is using illustrations or imperfect analogies to convey truth. Most people realize that if you push an illustration or analogy too far, they fall apart. Like quotes or Tweets, they have a limited yet beneficial aspect of brief truth.

Suppress Truth, No; Express Truth, Yes

I guess a lesson I’m learning from this is that the truth is always worth striving for, in long-form or short-form. Without getting epistemological or dispensational, we see and know truth partially at times, in stages, like looking in a glass mirror dimly. But God has especially revealed in his word enough for us to know the truth, to know Jesus, who is the truth.

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